When was the last time you experience flow? Your answer might be the time when you were doing something that you loved and enjoyed while feeling that time just flew by. You were there, in the zone, in the flow state, but then it shuts down and it was hard for you to get back. Familiar? Yes, most athletes who once tried being in the flow state find it hard to return to that wonderful state.
What if I told you that there is a process to tap into your flow whenever you wanted? Sounds great? This is where hacking into the flow state occurs. On my previous article entitled The Neuroscience of Flow State, I explained how elite and extreme sports athletes get into flow along with the Neurochemicals that are released during this state. In there, I also tackled about the 4 states of flow which are beneficial in hacking and maintaining the flow state.
Today, I’ll be going to explain these states, or I’ll call it the 4 Flow Cycles, individually. Understanding these cycles can help you maintain and stay more often in flow.
The 4 Cycles of Flow Infographic
This is the first stage of the flow cycle. This is when you’re training hard, pushing yourself to your limits. You’re overloading your brain with information until it feels like your head is about to explode. This is when you feel extreme frustration, tension, stress and anxiety where your brain produces a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, which prompt your adrenal glands to produce a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts your energy supplies while cortisol (the number 1 stress hormone) increases your sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, alters immune system responses and suppresses your digestive system. This hormone also communicates with the region of your brain that controls moods, motivation and fear.
Struggle Phase is the first step of the flow cycles but staying too long to this phase will make you fall into producing EXCESS CORTISOL which is the number 1 obstacle from achieving Flow.
We can unconsciously fall to Old Behavioral patterns, which will form a loop of struggle. Examples are these quotes: “Keep going through the pain” or “no pain no gain”. These mindset creates a LOOP of struggle, where you will go from struggle, excess cortisol, struggle, excess cortisol, struggle, to death.
Take extreme sports athletes as the examples. If they create a mindset where they form a loop of struggle, one wrong move can be the difference between life and death.
It is critical to keep yourself not falling into the LOOP OF STRUGGLE so your awareness of the transition from Struggle to the next phase, RELEASE, is very important.
Transition – In the struggle phase, our brainwaves are at 12-40 hertz, which is known as the BETA waves. In this waves we are using our CONSCIOUS MIND, which processes information very SLOWLY and require a LARGE amount of energy. For a smooth and conscious transition from STRUGGLE to RELEASE, we must be open to becoming SUBCONSCIOUS. You must de-activate to become faster at processing information and become more energy effective. You must strengthen your awareness of this transition phase. I have developed a very simple series of Flow Hacking Meditation and breathing exercises for this exact REQUIREMENT of STRUGGLE to RELEASE transition. Sign up to learn more about this technique.
This is when you take your mind off the problem entirely, taking a step back and calming down. Albert Einstein had solved many problems by rowing into the center of the lake, lie down and look up to the clouds to get himself into the RELEASE PHASE. This isn’t the same as watching TV or some other distraction that keeps the brain busy but it’s about relaxing the brain so the subconscious mind takes over the conscious mind. Many people miss this and as a result they constantly having overload and burnout missing flow together. You can also think of it as the steps from the opposite direction of stress. So from stress to the direction of comfort.
At the point when you’re taking these steps away from stress, you’re going to release nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide is an important cellular signaling molecule involved in many physiological and pathological processes which relaxes and widens the vessel wall allowing more blood to pass through which in turn FLUSHES out all the STRESS/CORTISOL from the previous Struggle Phase.
Now, in some cases, we could do what Einstein did, by rowing out into the lake and lying down watching the clouds pass by and let the tension clear like the movement of the clouds.
But for most of us, this is not possible, especially when you’re about to step off a mountain ledge or step into the cage for an MMA fight. So we need quick, practical tools or weapons to assist in the release phase during these times.
Transition – During competition, your mind is stressing, your glucose levels are high which causes you to burn more energy before you even start competing. Your mind is beating around BETA WAVES caused by stress. The release phase flushes out all the tension and brings your brain waves into ALPHA LEVEL of around 8-12 hertz. When you think of something in the present moment, your body release the same neurotransmitter and hormones as if you’re experiencing the thought right now. I have also developed a very simple series of Flow Hacking Meditation and Breathing Exercises for this exact requirement. Sign up to learn more about this technique.
FLOW STATE PHASE
This is the superhuman experience when inspiration takes over and where your struggle and release phase express themselves almost magically, the sweetest spot, the optimum performance!
In this phase, our mind and body releases a series of performance-enhancing neurochemicals or what I call the FANTASTIC 5! These are the following: Norepinephrine, Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin and Anandamide. Norepinephrine is responsible for concentration; Endorphin for feeling good; Dopamine for cognitive alertness; Serotonin as the mood balancer; and Anandamide which means ‘bliss’ in Sanskrit. These 5 neurotransmitters and hormones are the 5 PERFORMANCE enhancing chemical that are released in FLOW. These 5 make you FANTASTIC!!
While in this performance enhancing state called flow, our muscle reaction speeds up, our pattern recognition and our lateral thinking is up! We are feeling super positive, creative, focused and our perception of pain has dramatically changed, for the better. Our Actions merge with awareness. We are feeling SUPERHUMAN!
In flow, we experience what Scientists called as the Transient Hypofrontality, where our pre-frontal cortex temporarily shuts down. What happen is: you go from your conscious mind where processing information is very slow and energy is draining, to your Subconscious mind where processing of information is very fast and very energy efficient. This process is what Dr. Andrew Newbury found Tibetan Buddhist experiences while in deep meditation. So the stronger the communication system, the more effective, efficient and powerful the release of the 5 Performance Enhancers. The more the communication is being used, the clearer the signals.
Transition – While in Flow State, our brain is at the border of Alpha and Theta Zone with 8 Hz or the border between the conscious and subconscious mind. This zone is also the brain zone where Gamma waves spike!
Now the question is how to get into this Flow State Phase? I discovered this simple Instant Flow Meditation that works to your subconscious mind and get you to release the Performance Enhancing Chemicals (Fantastic 5) now. No matter the intensity of the release, the communication is in progress. Therefore you are developing your awareness of being in the FLOW. Awesome right? Get it Now!
The final stage is the stumbling block for most athletes and the biggest obstacle for hacking and maintaining the Flow State. After the dramatic high of performance enhancing ‘feel good’ neurochemicals then comes an equally dramatic low. You will get the emotion drop as you are not feeling superhuman as you felt just a while ago. You go on a down which often leads to self-sabotage or an emotional reaction to try and regain the flow state.
You need to rebalance and rebuild all those neurochemicals with your correct nutritional requirements, sunlight, breathing and meditation. You must develop a warrior’s mentality, or an emotion maturity with the knowledge that this is part of the process of learning, training and competition.
A lot of people don’t know that emotional stress and mental stress keeps the cortisol increasing. If you allow yourself to fall into the trap of NOT recovering and beating yourself up, you will begin to produce excess cortisol. The same as the struggle phase, recovery phase is also prone to producing excess cortisol. We need cortisol for accelerating the breakdown of proteins to amino acids, to defend the body against infection. It is also necessary for the recovery from injury. However, high levels of cortisol or excess cortisol in the blood can decrease white blood cells and antibody formation. This will dramatically limit you for getting back into the flow. Not recovering properly will limit you by getting back into the struggle phase therefore limit getting into flow.
If you want to learn more about the 4 cycles of Flow State, check out this tutorial. You can also sign up to this FREE HACK THE FLOW STATE COURSE wherein you’ll receive daily email talking about how to hack your flow state using this 4 flow cycles with other useful tools to your journey to greatness! Subscribe and get it for FREE!
Hack Your Flow: Understanding Flow Cycles, with Steven Kotler | Big Think. (2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016, from http://bigthink.com/videos/hack-your-flow-understanding-flow-cycles-with-steven-kotler
The Four Stages Of Flow - Business HorsePower. (2014). Retrieved February 15, 2016, from http://www.businesshorsepower.com/the-four-stages-of-flow/